The Personal and Professional Benefits of Being an Involved Alumni

UPDATED: June 19, 2023
PUBLISHED: June 15, 2023
The Personal and Professional Benefits of Being an Involved Alumni

Graduation represents the closing of one door in service to the opening of another—but it’s not a door that needs to stay shut forever. Maintaining a relationship with your alma mater can benefit you in many ways. But amid social and work obligations, how can you make time to be an active and involved alumni? Consider school back in session, and check out our tips on how to manage your involvement to reap rewards post-cap-and-gown season.

Scale your involvement

“I encourage young grads to just start by going to one to two events a year,” Katie O’Sullivan, director of communications at Nerinx Hall High School in St. Louis, Missouri, says. “Say ‘yes’ to one volunteer or service project or day that is advertised. At Nerinx, we periodically have days for the current students where we need adults in a variety of fields to talk about their profession, and it is a two-hour commitment, one time.”

O’Sullivan said taking advantage of those one-off activities can portend deeper involvement.

“Volunteering once or in a small way often leads to bigger things like board membership and meaningful volunteer and mentorship opportunities,” she explains, adding that this line of thinking can also be applied to financial contributions. “If you do feel you benefitted from your school or organization, start giving back financially. Everyone thinks it has to be a lot, but $5 or $10 a month makes a difference.”

And it can pay dividends, in terms of relationship building. 

“Donating keeps you on active email lists so that you find out about opportunities happening in your area and events that might be of interest,” O’Sullivan says. “I always appreciate the college-aged and postgrad alums who give back to their alma maters. If someone does call looking for someone for internship or job opportunities, those individuals are naturally more top of mind for me.”

Alumni relationships can transcend age and location 

As a proud alumna of Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Missouri, who now lives in Chicago, Illinois, I’m happy to answer the question my hometown is best known for: Where did you go to high school? While I’ve met several people who feel this question invites stereotyping or possible judgment, I’ve always taken it with a lens of information-gathering: Now they understand more about the area where I grew up, can identify any possible mutual friends, etc. And if we discover we both went to the same high school, albeit different graduating years, boom—we’ve got even more in common.

O’Sullivan also has a positive story about creating these types of relationships. As a former chapter president for the University of Missouri-Columbia’s chapter of Alpha Delta Pi, she is connected to the sorority’s lifetime membership base of more than 250,000 alumnae. She began volunteering for the sorority in 2009, three years after finishing undergrad.

“I’ve met lots of women from all over the country who are close friends now as a result of our mutual involvement in ADPi,” she says.

While serving as a chapter advisor for the sorority, O’Sullivan connected with another woman in the same role. They have enjoyed a 12-year friendship, and O’Sullivan serves as the godmother to this woman’s daughter.

“We attended different colleges and had no mutual friends, even on Facebook!” O’Sullivan recalls. “I would not have her or her family in my life without saying yes to volunteering.” 

The networking possibilities are limitless

“I got my first job as a result of having my sorority involvement on my resume,” O’Sullivan says. “I asked the hiring manager afterward what the difference was between me and other finalists, and she said she knew if I’d been a sorority president at age 21 and managed people and budgets, I’d have no trouble in the role. There are certainly companies and organizations where it might not be beneficial to list it, but many where it is.”

O’Sullivan believes that while a great starting point can be networking via an organization’s LinkedIn page, nothing replaces showing up to alumni events in person. 

“It can be nerve-wracking to go to a happy hour or service day without knowing anyone, but it can be a great way to get involved and start meeting people who can be friends, mentors and colleagues down the line,” she says. 

However, professional help doesn’t always come once you discover a shared school or fraternal organization.

“Sometimes new graduates think it might just take one email to connect with someone who has a shared experience, then you’ll immediately get a job offer,” she adds. “Though sometimes that can be the case, over time those connections have been helpful to me in job searches and in finding people with similar roles to lean on for collaboration and conversation.”

And if you had a good experience in college, that’s even more reason to get—and stay—involved.

“I wanted others to have the alumni support to have those same types of great experiences I had,” O’Sullivan says. “Sororities, colleges, private high schools—all often share the same message that it isn’t just four years, it is for life.”

Jill McDonnell

Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.